Like other countries in the Americas, Canada is an offshoot of Western Europe. The east coast of North America was discovered by Europeans — Spaniards in the south, and English, French and Dutch in the north — all seeking a westward route to Asia. The cry of "LAND! LAND!" from Columbus' weary and frightened sailors in 1492 was echoed and re-echoed from the mainmasts of theships of Cabot, Corte-Real, Verrazano, Cartier, Gilbert, Raleigh and Hudson, until the coastline was discovered and mapped. The early attempts of both England and France to start colonies failed, and the sixteenth century ended with only the Spaniards firmly established in the New World.
But Europeans were still drawn by the mystery of America and by the search for a passageway to China through acontinent whose vast extent remained unknown. Almost at the same time, both French and English established permanent colonies in North America. In 1607 the Virginia Company founded Jamestown, and soon hundreds and then thousands of men left England to settle in the New World, either to improve their fortunes or to escape religious persecution. By the end of the century much of the coastline hadbeen settled, and by the middle of the eighteenth century about 1,500,000 people lived in the thirteen colonies.
Explorers, fur traders and adventurous settlers were already looking beyond the Appalachian Mountains towards the rich lands of the Ohio-Mississippi Valley. Once the mysteries of the mountain passes had been solved and the interior discovered, the stage was set for the first majorround in the struggle for a continent, for the colony of New France stood in the way of the English.
The story of New France or Quebec had a different course and a different ending from that of the thirteen English colonies. In 1608 Samuel de Champlain established the first French foothold on the cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence at Quebec City. But settlers did not flock to Champlain's newcolony. The French were less willing than the English to leave their homeland for a new life in America. Moreover, the climate in the French colony was harsh and much of the land unsuited for agriculture. By 1760 there were still only 60,000 settlers in New France.
Yet those few people had carved out a far-flung empire for France in North America. In the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes waterway the Frenchhad a communications system which, once mastered, opened up the entire interior of the continent from the Gulf of Mexico to the Rocky Mountains. Adventurous fur traders, les coureurs de bois, and explorers pressed along the water routes, followed, and sometimes preceded, by courageous missionaries determined to convert the Indians.
In 1642 the city of Montreal was started at the head ofnavigation on the St. Lawrence and became the centre of the fur trade. Before long French explorers had reached Lake Superior and Hudson Bay. Every year saw the French push farther into the depths of an unknown continent. In 1672 Louis Jolliet and Father Marquette set out from Montreal and reached Michilimackinac where Lake Michigan flows into Lake Huron. The next spring they voyaged by way of LakeMichigan until they reached the Mississippi, the Indians' great "Father of Waters," which they followed to the mouth of the Arkansas River. Nine years later the hardy Cavelier de La Salle pressed down the great river to the Gulf of Mexico, claiming the land for King Louis XIV and calling it Louisiana.
Other coureurs de bois moved westward. The greatest was Pierre La Verendrye who, with his two sons,reached the Saskatchewan River to the north, and the Missouri to the south. Here Mandan Indians told them of great mountains farther west. In 1742 his sons set their faces westward and on New Year's Day 1743 saw the Black Hills of the Dakotas. (A plate bearing their name was unearthed near Pierre, South Dakota, in 1913.) There is some evidence that in 1748 the sons were the first Europeans to...